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Beavers pack grace, power, grit

by: DOUG PENSINGER, Elation carries the day as the Oregon State baseball team gets its hand on the trophy at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The hardware came home when the Beavers put away North Carolina 3-2 in Game 3 of the championship series.

I was in Omaha to see it, and I'm still having trouble believing it happened. Now, after 4 1/2 months, 50 victories, a second straight Pac-10 title and a College World Series championship, Oregon State's baseball glory ride is over.

Gone are the likes of Jonah Nickerson, Kevin Gunderson, Dallas Buck and Cole Gillespie, along with many of the role players who lifted the OSU program from oblivion to the epicenter of college baseball. Gone, but not soon forgotten.

I've been fortunate enough to cover plenty of major sporting events during my three decades in this business, including the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Series and the NBA Finals. In terms of drama from start to finish, nothing tops the Beavers' mission improbable. I'll be the first to admit, as much as I admire Pat Casey and have long respected his ability to dispense life's lessons and mold winners out of young men, I wasn't sure a national championship could be accomplished.

Casey and his Beavers proved more than a few people wrong. They galvanized Oregon State alums and fans as maybe only the 2001 Fiesta Bowl team had done before them. 'Team of destiny' is an overused phrase, but in this case, it seems absolutely appropriate.

Favorite memories from the 10 days in Omaha:

16. Mitch Canham's arm.

The glove still needs work - too many passed balls - but the brick-built catcher throws out would-be base stealers like a bouncer tossing drunks from a bar.

15. Tyler Graham's hustle.

Whether on the base paths or while patrolling center field, Graham was a catalyst for setting things in motion. Good thing for the Beavers the redshirt junior turned down a pro offer a year ago to come back for another crack at a CWS title.

14. Gillespie's presence at the plate.

He struggled some at the end of the CWS, but the Beavers' meal ticket was always a threat to bust one on the other guys. Don't think they didn't know.

13. Small ball.

Can those guys bunt, or what?

12. Unsung Bill Rowe's hot bat.

Senior transfers just don't go on 10-game postseason hitting streaks or lead the CWS in hits and RBIs, especially when they hit .235 the previous season. Unless you're Rowe as in 'Wow.'

11. Buck's swan song.

Determined not to let his personal CWS career end on a sour note, he demanded the ball when the going got tough in the late innings of the championship game, got two critical strikeouts and, though he would never admit it, achieved a measure of vindication. That's moxie.

10. Camaraderie.

It sounds corny, but the players got along and genuinely pulled for one another. Egos were pretty much swept aside for the good of the team. Sure, winning solves a lot of problems, but this was as true in February as it was in June.

9. The Infield - and yes, put that in capital letters.

Shea McFeely, Darwin Barney, Chris Kunda and Rowe formed the best defensive infield in college baseball. Ziploc baggies should be so airtight.

8. National recognition.

State-of-Oregon baseball fans already knew that Casey can coach and build a program, even where the sun don't shine.

7. Kunda's smooth at second base.

He's a major leaguer with the glove, and few have ever made it look so effortless. If there was a better defensive player at the CWS, I missed him.

6. Mike Stutes' mastery of Miami.

That game that proved he belonged among the nation's best arms. 'Clutch' doesn't do that performance justice.

5. Daniel Turpen's out-of-nowhere gem in the first shutout of top-ranked Rice.

In the McMinnville sophomore's second start of the season, Hollywood couldn't have written a more unlikely script.

4. Gunderson's spunk.

The Beavers' most engaging personality - this kid has a future in broadcasting - also was the team's hole card besides becoming, in all probability, the only pitcher with a victory and three saves in a single CWS.

3. Nickerson's peerless performance en route to the CWS' Most Outstanding Player award.

Frigidaire should market St. Nick's cool.

2. The dog pile.

Is there anything better in sports?

1. Casey's face as he hugged his wife and kids.

Pure joy. Relief.

His strong faith and belief that hard work pays off was the basis of his program's rise to the top.